Sunday, December 16, 2012

Gaudete, even in tragedy


3rd Sunday of advent year c 2012
Rejoice in The Lord always.  These words from our second reading today form the theme of the day. In fact, this Sunday is known as Gaudete Sunday, coming from the entrance antiphon from today's Mass. This is why we don the pink vestments and proclaim rejoice. This color represents the joy that we are experience as we prepare to celebrate the great feast of Christmas, where we celebrate the central truth that the Son of God was born to be our savior. This is the source of our joy.
But, this day comes to us on the heels of a very sad day. How can we not be saddened when we hear about the senseless violence that claimed the lives of so many people in Connecticut this past week. One headline I read said it all: why would anyone hurt our babies?  Why indeed?
This latest tragedy may be freshest in our mind, but there have been tragedies all throughout history. Just in the last 100 years we have seen world wars, communist oppression, terrorist attacks large and small. It seems like every day the newspapers are just filled with bad news. In this context, doesn't joy seem a bit out of place. How are we to be joyful in the midst of such suffering?  It is certainly true that there are many obstacles keeping people from living the Christian life, but one we might hear quite regularly goes like this: how can I believe that God is loving and powerful if he lets things like this happen?
Rather than simply dismiss this complaint as misguided, I think it deserves a serious response. How do we answer the question of evil?  One that we hear quite often is that God has a plan for all this. But I feel that this answer rings somewhat hollow. This answer almost makes it seem as though God causes evil to happen so that good might come about. But that doesn't make sense to me. Why would God cause evil, just to bring out good? Wouldn't he just bypass the evil step and just jump right to doing good?
I think if we really explore this issue we can find an answer that is more helpful.  Make no mistake, evil is a mystery. It doesn't make sense. As much as we want it to make sense, it won't.  And, that is because evil is not supposed to exist. The best answer to the question of evil is that God didn't create evil. In fact, if we read the book of Genesis we see there that God created Adam and Eve to live and to be with him in the Garden. In that place there was no death, no evil, no sin, no one attacking innocent children. These things only enter the world after the fall of humanity, only after original sin. In other words, God is never the author of evil, never the author of tragedy. It is the case that God allows evil. I remember reading a quote from John Paul once that said although God allows suffering, he does not enjoy it. This is important to remember.
In many ways, the answer to the question why in the face of great tragedy escapes us because evil doesn’t make sense.  But, we could ask another question of God: what?  What did you do about it, how did you respond?  Since God is not the author of evil he was not responsible, God didn’t have to do anything in response to the falleness of humanity.  But, he did respond.  He did do something, He sent his son Jesus.  He sent us Christ as our savior to free us from sin and death.  It is precisely this knowledge, our Catholic faith, that fills us with joy.
Joy is not the same thing as bubbly enthusiasm.  We do not always experience the warm fuzzy feelings of enthusiasm.  Joy is something deeper.  Joy is the certain knowledge that Christ has conquered all.  Joy is the knowledge that evil doesn’t get to win.  Even though evil can bring us pain and sadness, it does not have the last word.  Someone remarked to me that this tragedy will ruin Christmas for so many people, and I certainly understand what he meant.  But, I think the message of Christmas is the best thing we can give to those in pain: I know you are suffering and I know you feel the pain and misery that evil can cause in this world, but fix your heart on Christ and believe in him, for he is close to the broken-hearted.  Jesus Christ is the source of our Joy precisely because he alone can destroy sin and death, the enemies of Joy.

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